How Tel Aviv Became the White City
One of the great things about Israeli society is that it has developed with influences from all over the world. Israel is largely a country of immigrants and each group of immigrants brought their own influence.
If you are spending your gap year in Tel Aviv then you will learn a great deal about the city’s architecture, in particular the many Bauhaus buildings that can be found across the city. These buildings are the legacy of the thousands of German Jews that fled the Nazis in the 1930s. They built more than 4,000 buildings in the Bauhaus style in Tel Aviv and many of them remain today.
The Bauhaus style was particularly suited to the then young city of Tel Aviv as it focused on functionality and inexpensive building materials. However, it was necessary to adapt the architecture to suit the Mediterranean and desert climate. In Europe a key element of the Bauhaus style were large windows. However, these let in too much sun and heat so they were replaced by small recessed windows. Instead, the buildings were given long narrow balconies, each shaded by the balcony above, to allow residents to enjoy the breeze blowing in from the sea but without burning in the sun. Furthermore, the roofs were changed from sloped to flat so that people could gather on them and socialise in the cool evenings.
To further cool the buildings they were raised on pillars. The first was the 1933 Engel House that was designed by Zeev Rechter. The pillars allow wind to blow under the building and cool the apartments, at the same time it provided a fantastic play area for children. A couple of years later, in 1935, a steel frame structure was introduced at the office building Beit Hadar and this technique made it easier to open up the ground floor.
To this day Tel Aviv is very much defined by its Bauhaus architecture. It is known as the ‘White City’ due to the thousands of while buildings constructed from the 1930s onwards. Unfortunately, many of the buildings have fallen into disrepair. However, there is a restoration programme underway and in 2015 the German government and the city of Tel Aviv reached an agreement under which Germany will give €2.8 million towards the preservation project.
Just as interesting as the buildings, if not more so, are the people who built them. The history of the German Jews that emigrated to Tel Aviv is of course extremely complicated. Around 60,000 German Jews arrived in Israel when the Nazis rose to power together with roughly 30,000 from German speaking areas such as Austria.
They were a notable group as they maintained many of their habits from Germany. Their style of dress remained the same for some time and they were known for being extremely punctual. As a result, they were subject to a great deal of derisive humour. Luckily, this didn’t prevent them contributing a great deal to early Israeli society in a wide variety of fields such as the sciences, arts, business and of course architecture.